I would hope that anyone who knows me well enough to be reading this also knows me well enough to understand that I am not a racist.
I would also hope that everyone understands that criticizing a belief and/or belief system is not hateful or racist. “I hate Christians” is not the same thing as “I believe Christianity as a religion has some troublesome ideas in its holy book that encourage bad behavior on the part of a not-at-all-tiny segment of its adherents.” The same goes for Muslims vs. Islam.
Please keep those things in mind as you read the rest of this post.
“We demand the killing of atheists” was trending on Arabic Twitter a couple of days ago (and still is, though it’s largely now been taken over by people reporting on it).
— Faisal Saeed AlMutar (@faisalalmutar) June 21, 2016
In Bangladesh, murdering non-believers has become a damn-near everyday occurrence. Google “bangladesh atheist killed” and you’ll find a depressingly long list of news stories.
I do not hate individual Muslims. I’ll say again: I DO NOT HATE INDIVIDUAL MUSLIMS. They’re people like the rest of us; some are assholes, while the majority are wonderful and caring. Like the rest of us.
However, Islam as a religion, when paired with an Islam-centered theocracy, seems to be encouraging a lot of horrifying behavior on the part of its most fundamentalist believers. Add atheists to the list of people on the receiving end of atrocities — a list that includes women (female genital mutilation and honor killings) and gay people (imprisonment, murder, or execution by the theocratic government).
While things like banning Muslims from the country or singling them out for registration or violence are ignorant, wrong-headed and cruel, I don’t think the term “Islamophobia” should be tossed out every time one of the more troubling aspects of the religion is pointed out. Doing so stifles conversation — and we, as a species, desperately need to have a serious conversation about how much we’ll let people get away with in the name of religion.
This is why I’m often quick to call out cases of, for instance, church-state separation being encroached on (or outright ignored) here in the States. Such cases are a slippery slope toward theocracy, which usually doesn’t tend to go too well for average citizens who don’t happen to belong to the religion in power.
It’s also why I’m quick to call out horrible things said or done by religious leaders. It’s not because I hate all religious people – since I’m the only atheist I know of in my local circle, that would require even more isolation than my introverted self would like. No, pointing out this bad behavior isn’t meant to express hate for all religious people – it’s meant to point out a problem that, unfortunately, leads to real-world consequences for people inside and outside that religion.
Which brings me to…
No True Christian / No True Muslim
There’s a logical fallacy in formal debate (and informal arguments) that comes up when a person’s favored group has been criticized. The term was coined by professor Antony Flew, who’s quoted by Rational Wiki like so:
“Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the ‘Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.’ Hamish is shocked and declares that ‘No Scotsman would do such a thing.’ The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again, and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man [a Scot] whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion [that no Scotsman could commit such a heinous act], but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, ‘No true Scotsman would do such a thing.’”
One example of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is when someone (multiple someones, since it’s happened to me several times) says, “Well, you weren’t really a Christian; you didn’t really believe (or believe correctly) or you’d never have turned away from God.”
I saw countless examples of ‘No True Scotsman’ in the wake of the Orlando massacre, when Christian leaders came out of the woodwork to revel in the carnage while lamenting the “low” body count.
“Yes, but they’re not real Christians. Real Christians love their neighbor.”
If you asked these hateful preachers, do you think they’d consider themselves to be anything other than Christian? Do you think they’d consider the more loving, accepting denominations as true Christians?
I find the “No True Scotsman” line to be especially troubling when the behavior we’re talking about is murder, advocating (or just not condemning) of murder, and other atrocities.
Because by saying “no TRUE <insert in-group here>,” we’re washing our hands of the extremists that we’re trying to deny actually belong to the group. And then we can just throw up our hands when something awful happens and say, “Well, they’re not US – they’re wrong and awful and something should be done about them but it’s not ultimately OUR problem because we’re not THEM.”
By saying “no true Christian” we can go happily on with our lives, content in the knowledge that our house is still in order. It’s that other group – the one who falsely calls itself by the same name – that has the problem.
And while we’re making those denials, “We demand the killing of the Atheists” trends on Twitter and “I wish he’d killed more of them” trends from fundamentalist pulpits and the outcome of those sentiments trends in real life with horrifying, life-ending results.
Do I have a solution? No. It’s a complex issue, and since we’re talking about deeply-held beliefs, an extremely emotional one.
But I think eliminating “No True Scotsman” from our thinking, and really speaking out against members of our in-group when they say or do something awful, would be a good first step.
After all, whose condemnation is a hateful religious person more apt to care about: an atheist like me…or a more peaceful and loving person within their own religion?